Arizona has some of the toughest DUI laws in the country, with mandatory jail time, fines, and other penalties even for a first offense. Here, the team at Edwards & Petersen answers the most frequently asked questions around Arizona’s DUI laws.
What is the legal limit in Arizona?
In Arizona the legal limit is a BAC (blood alcohol content) of 0.08. If your BAC reads 0.08 or higher, you face standard DUI charges. A blood alcohol content over 0.15 results in Extreme DUI charges, and over 0.20 is Super Extreme. Charges and penalties increase along with BAC levels.
If you were operating a commercial vehicle, the limit drops to 0.04. If you are under age 21, any amount of alcohol results in a DUI charge.
Arizona legalized marijuana use for medical reasons, but it’s still illegal to drive while impaired by any intoxicating substance, including marijuana. Until 2016, there was a zero tolerance policy against marijuana, meaning that any amount in your system resulted in a DUI, which had the affect of allowing DUI charges against anyone legally using marijuana, even if they weren’t impaired at the time of driving. State courts recently reversed this zero tolerance policy. Today, the driver’s bloodstream must show active Hydroxy-THC. Alternatively, the driver must display impairment during a field test.
I blew less than 0.08. Why was I charged with DUI?
If the prosecutor feels he or she can prove impairment, you may face DUI charges with any amount of alcohol in your system. In addition, if you were driving a commercial vehicle, the limit is only 0.04, and if you are under the legal drinking age of 21, any amount of alcohol in your system results in a DUI charge.
What is Extreme DUI?
Extreme DUI is a blood alcohol content over 0.15. You may also face Extreme DUI charges for a third offense standard DUI. Arizona treats Extreme DUI as a criminal misdemeanor. A first offense carries a minimum sentence of 30 days, with a maximum sentence of 6 months.
Arizona also has Super Extreme DUI for those with a BAC of 0.20 or higher. The minimum sentence is 45 days.
What is Aggravated DUI?
Aggravated DUI charges occur if you have two previous DUI convictions within the past 7 years, commit DUI while driving on a suspended license, or commit DUI with a passenger under the age of 15.
I wasn’t even driving. How could I get a DUI?
DUI charges rely on two things: your BAC level being over the legal limit, and being in “actual physical control of a motor vehicle.” This second requirement means that you do not have to actually be driving the vehicle, nor does the vehicle need to be on the road. If you can reach the pedals and the steering wheel, you may face DUI charges, even if you are parked on private property. If you are impaired, pull over, take the keys out of the ignition and throw them on the floor. If possible, get out of the driver’s seat and into the back seat and sleep it off.
What should I do if I’m pulled over?
First, try to remain calm. The moment an officer pulls you over, he or she is observing/recording everything you do, which may be used as evidence. This starts with how you pull over, so try to come to a smooth stop. The officer will ask you a number of questions. Legally, your only obligation is to provide your name, driver’s license, and proof of insurance and vehicle registration.
If the officer asks you to take a field sobriety test (i.e. touch your nose, walk a straight line, count backwards etc…), refuse to do so. Results from these tests are notoriously unreliable. You will likely be arrested and taken to the DUI processing site. There, you will be questioned and asked to take the chemical test. At this time, you should request your lawyer be present during questioning. You should also agree to the chemical test. Below we explain why you should agree to the chemical test.
What is the field sobriety test?
Sometimes called an FST, the field sobriety test is a series of tests law enforcement officers conduct when they suspect a driver is guilty of DUI. It may involve a test of your coordination, such as standing on one foot or walking in a straight line. The officer may also administer the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, which is when he or she holds up an object and asks you to follow it using only your eyes.
DUI attorneys recommend refusing these tests for a variety of reasons, the strongest of which is the tests’ unreliability. The officer determines whether or not you “pass,” making the results highly subjective.
What happens if I refuse the chemical test?
The chemical test checks your BAC level and is performed at the processing center. The most common test is the breathalyzer, but you may also be asked to give a blood or urine sample. Technically, you are within your rights to refuse this test. Arizona statutes do not require submitting to the chemical test. However, refusal results in immediate suspension of your driving privileges. In addition, you typically wind up performing the chemical test anyway, as the arresting officer usually will obtain a search warrant, allowing the test to proceed despite your refusal. The DUI attorneys at Edwards & Petersen strongly recommend taking the chemical test.
What is the officer looking for after he or she pulls me over?
When an officer pulls you over, even if it was not on suspicion of DUI, he or she is alert to signs of intoxication. These include:
- A flushed or sweating face
- Difficulty providing documents, including license, proof of insurance, and registration
- Slurred speech
- The smell of alcohol
- Watery or bloodshot eyes
- Rapid eye movements, head or hand movements.
If the officer asks you to exit the vehicle, he or she is looking for further signs of intoxication. These include:
- Difficulty exiting the vehicle
- Inability to stand without swaying or leaning on the vehicle
- Inability to understand or answer the officer’s questions
- Inability to understand or follow the officer’s directions
What is the DUI task force? What are they looking for?
Arizona employs a DUI task force throughout the state, with increased efforts during holidays. These officers concentrate their efforts on looking for impaired drivers, and their training tells them to look for certain indicators. These include:
- Abrupt or illegal turns
- Delayed responses to traffic lights
- Driving over or straddling lane markers
- Driving too fast or too slow
- Driving at night without your headlights
- Failing to maintain your lane
- Inconsistent signals (blinker on without turning, indicating left but turning right, etc.)
- Making wide turns
- Rapid acceleration or deceleration
- Sudden stops without reason (in traffic lanes)
- Weaving or swerving
If the officer doesn’t read me my Miranda rights, don’t they have to drop the charges?
No, failure to read you your rights does not lead to automatic dismissal of your case. However, your attorney will request the suppression of any statements you made.
What are the penalties for a DUI?
DUI penalties in Arizona vary depending on prior DUI convictions and your BAC level at the time of your arrest. No matter the charge, Arizona levies mandatory jail time and fines of up to $2,500, even on a first offense. Other penalties include:
- Attendance at an alcohol and drug awareness program
- Installation of an ignition interlock device
- License suspension up to 12 months
- Community service
For further details regarding DUI penalties, please visit our Arizona DUI Consequences page.
What is an IID?
IID stands for ignition interlock device, and it is a common penalty after a DUI conviction. The device connects to your ignition and requires you to blow into it before starting your vehicle. If the device detects any alcohol in your system, the vehicle will not start. In addition, some devices require periodic testing while you drive.
You must install an IID at your own expense, typically for a period of 12 months.
What is SR22 insurance?
If you are convicted of DUI, you likely have to carry SR22 insurance, and maintain the policy for 3 years. You cannot get your driver’s license reinstated without providing proof of SR22 insurance. The purpose of this insurance is to prove that you meet the minimum liability laws in Arizona.
If you have any Arizona DUI questions that were not answered here, or need clarification on an answer provided, please leave a reply in the comments section. Someone from the Edwards & Petersen team will respond.
Can I plead to a lesser offense?
Some states allow drivers accused of DUI to plea a “wet reckless” instead of DUI. Essentially, this is reckless driving involving alcohol. Arizona, however, does not allow drivers accused of DUI to plead to a lesser offense.